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$4b in Angola's oil funds said missing

JOHANNESBURG -- More than $4 billion in oil revenue disappeared from Angolan state coffers between 1997 and 2002, even as the country was struggling to recover from 27 years of civil war, Human Rights Watch said in a report yesterday.

The report comes at a time when Angola is trying to increase international support for the country. Foreign donors cite corruption as one of their key concerns.

"While ordinary Angolans suffered through a profound humanitarian crisis, their government oversaw the suspicious disappearance of a truly colossal sum of money," said Arvind Ganesan, director of the New York-based group's business and human rights program. "This seriously undermined Angolans' rights."

President Jose Eduardo dos Santos's government denied any wrongdoing, claiming the missing funds could be explained by oil price fluctuations.

Angola is sub-Saharan Africa's largest oil exporter after Nigeria, producing more than 900,000 barrels per day.

During the war against the UNITA rebel group, oil revenue provided funding for the government's war effort. The fighting ended when the army tracked down and killed the insurgents' leader, Jonas Savimbi, in 2002.

Angola's plentiful oil reserves have earned the country growing attention from the United States and other Western countries as they have sought alternatives to Middle East crude.

State oil revenues surged after international companies such as BP, ExxonMobil, and Total expanded their Angolan operations in the late 1990s, totaling $17.8 billion from 1997 to 2002 -- about 85 percent of government income -- according to the Human Rights Watch report.

A total of $4.22 billion of that money, representing about 9.25 percent of gross domestic product annually, is unaccounted for, according to the group's analysis of figures from the International Monetary Fund.

Meanwhile, an estimated 900,000 Angolans remain displaced, millions have almost no access to schools and hospitals, and nearly half the country's 7.4 million children suffer from malnutrition, according to UN figures.

Human Rights Watch said the missing funds are roughly equal to what was spent in the same period on social programs in the deeply impoverished country -- $4.27 billion, including both government expenditure and initiatives funded through the United Nations' Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal.

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